Agricultural development and industrial progress can be achieved hand-in-hand, according to agro-solar energy supply and solutions provider Citicore Power Inc.
There is now a global innovative approach that relies on the dual use of a solar power facility with agriculture—a concept of combining solar energy production with farming that could change the way food is produced in the future.
The Citicore agrosolar project is a proof of concept that agriculture, solar power generation and social development can go hand-in-hand towards food, energy and economic security. It is an innovative, sustainable and efficient project that combines power generation and crop production.
It adopts sustainable farming processes, planting and growing crops beneath the arrays of elevated solar panels.
It also aims to support sustainable crop production by empowering farmers and host communities, as well as supporting rural development through planting and producing agricultural crops in the solar power plant sites. It encourages planting of basic and high-value crops which are easy to grow and produce and have a higher net return per hectare of land.
In a plant tour and harvest festival sponsored by Citicore at its Tarlac 2 solar farm on May 20, the Development Bank of the Philippines, the Department of Agriculture and the local government of Tarlac City expressed strong support for the proliferation of agro-solar models across the country, similar to Citicore’s agro-solar project.
Participants experienced first-hand a solar plant in operation, while having an opportunity to harvest turmeric, grown directly beneath the solar panels.
“Citicore’s goal for pioneering this initiative is to ensure that farmers are not displaced by the race for renewable energy, but rather be nurtured and supported, as they remain integral to the country’s economic growth and development. We want to strike a balance between industrialization, environmental protection and agricultural advancement,” said Oliver Tan, president of Citicore.
With downstream linkage to crop production, Citicore’s agro-solar model becomes very attractive to institutions heavily engaged in financing agro-industrial activities and promoting countryside development.
Most of the solar power plants in the country are built on what were previously farm lands.
With this, Citicore examined the possibility of planting crops beneath the highest points of the solar panel structures that can also help the small farm growers in host communities to continue with their livelihood even after the land conversion. Citicore dedicated 500 square meters in each of the five solar plants in Luzon for the pilot run of the project.
Soil in all solar farms were analyzed and proven suitable for growing crops and turmeric was selected a high-value crop with minimal maintenance requirements when planted.
The solar photovoltaic panel structures in the Philippines are specifically designed and built to adapt to the local weather and climate, resulting in closer-spaced structures that are lower in height than comparable facilities in other countries.
The panel structures have around 800 mm to 1 meter vertical clearance below the panels at the highest point, which gave room for planting of the initial turmeric crops.
After almost 12 months, the farm yielded 40,000 kilos of turmeric with an estimated commercial value of P1 million, on top of generating a total of 71 MW of clean solar energy across five power projects.
Other high-value crops and vegetable varieties will soon be planted to maximize yields during the entire planting season and address climate change issues.
“Our main driving force in DBP is to give hope to our food providers. That’s why we partnered very closely with DA to provide financial support to our farmers and help them become drivers of progress in rural areas,” DBP president Emmanuel Herbosa said, echoing DA’s vision in helping farmers improve their livelihood.
DBP is the country’s largest development bank and primarily mandated to cater to the needs of agricultural and industrial enterprises. It also offers several programs, like the agroforestry plantation program that provides credit assistance for the development, expansion, harvesting, processing, maintenance and protection of industrial forest-based plantations in qualified areas.
“Our focus areas for financing are aligned with the objectives of Citicore’s agro-solar project, especially in terms of support for small and medium enterprises, which our farmers can represent, and nurturingthe environment, which Citicore very well embodies,” Herbosa said.
The bank focuses on four major areas of financing —infrastructure and logistics, social services, small and medium enterprises, and the environment. On the other hand, Citicore is committed to harness clean and renewable energy sources to help the country achieve net-zero carbon emission in the future.
Citicore is a pure renewable energy company committed to helping the country achieve a healthy energy mix from solar, hydro and biomass platforms.